What is a Speciality Coffee?
The term Speciality Coffee was first used by Erna Knutsen of Knutsen Coffee Ltd in Tea and Coffee Trade Journal in 1974 to describe best flavour beans that are produced in special microclimates.
Underlying this was that specialty coffee beans would always be well prepared, freshly roasted, and properly brewed.
The Speciality Coffee Association of Europe defines speciality coffee as:
"a crafted quality coffee-based beverage, which is judged by the consumer (in a limited marketplace at a given time) to have a unique quality, a distinct taste and personality different from, and superior to, the common coffee beverages offered. The beverage is based on beans that have been grown in an accurately defined area, and which meet the highest standards for green coffee and for its roasting, storage and brewing."
The Speciality Coffee Association of America defines speciality coffee as:
"Coffee that has met all the tests of survival encountered in the long journey from the coffee tree to the coffee cup. More specifically, we measure it against standards and with methods that allow us to identify coffee that has been properly cared for."
What makes a Speciality Coffee?
By the time coffee reaches the end consumer it has passed through many processes and hands - from farmer to miller, to intermediaries to roaster to brewer. As the SCAA puts it:
"Until the moment that the roasted coffee is brewed and transformed into a beverage, the concept of specialty coffee is locked up as a possibility, just a potentially wonderful gustatory experience".
There are so many factors that are important in the process.
Growth to Harvest
Altitude, soil chemistry, farming, climate, harvesting the coffee cherry at peak of ripeness, quick delivery from the tree to the mill so that the cherry's potential can be preserved.
Processing the beans
Coffee cherries must be processed soon after harvesting to prevent the pulp from fermenting around the bean. The beans must then be dried sufficiently, rested, hulled and polished, graded and sorting before shipping. At this point the selection of suitable packaging and storage conditions are vital.
Green Bean to Roasted Coffee
Here the roasters skills come into play in their ability to discern and identify the potential of the coffee and develop its flavours.
Many changes occur as raw green coffee beans are roasted. As the beans increase in temperature, the water in them turns into steam and expands, their cellular structure begins to rupture and they begin to crackle audibly. Colour rapidly changes from dry green to a more vibrant green as the moisture is forced out, subsequently they become a straw colour progressing to caramel and then to a darker and darker brown.
The colour changes signal the breakdown of starches into simple sugars through the process of carmelisation. The brown bean is initially flat and dull in colour but it quickly becomes flecked with oil. If the bean is removed from the roaster at this stage the oils are reabsorbed as the coffee cools. If the roast is allowed to progress, these oils will remain as a coating on the outside of the beans.
The roasted product must now be properly packaged to retain and protect the roasted product.
At this point, the objective is to get the most flavour from the beans and release the aroma compounds. If the grind is too fine, the coffee may be destroyed by over extraction or if the grind is too coarse, the coffee may never develop.
As it reaches the end consumer the coffee is brewed and will be affected by water quality, temperature, water ratio and extraction.
Scoring excellence in all these areas of the process is what creates a speciality coffee. We are proud that our Fixx Coffee brand is created from Speciality coffees sourced from three different countries of origin (Sumatra, Ethiopia and Brazil).
We work in conjunction with Mercanta who employ some of the world's best cuppers to seek out the finest coffees from throughout the specialist coffee world. Much of their time is spent cupping and evaluating a huge variety of samples.
Café de Cuba is a member of Speciality Coffee Association of Europe committed to coffee quality and excellence.